The Countdown to Maker Faire Bay Area is On!


Drone hacking

Drone hacking

Drone hacking? Really? With off the shelf software?

Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations. Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.

SkyGrabber is software that’s usually used to download movies from satellites. It appears you can just hook it up to a satellite dish for for its “connection” and you’re off. Instead of downloading the latest Vampire movie, you could get video feeds from the drones. Wild.

In the MakerShed
ArduPilot is a full-featured autopilot based on the Arduino open-source hardware platform. It uses infrared (thermopile) sensors for stabilization and GPS for navigation. Requires a GPS module and an infrared XY sensor (not included). The autopilot handles both stabilization and navigation, eliminating the need for a separate stabilization system. It also supports a “fly-by-wire” mode that can stabilize an aircraft when flying manually under RC control, making it easier and safer to fly.

12 thoughts on “Drone hacking

  1. Dave Bell says:

    Besides the new-fangled infrared autopilots, model-scale electronic units are an old idea. Not much ever came of it, but I remember a lot of interest when the original articles came out:

    1. ENDIF says:

      All they’re doing is plucking unencrypted video streams from the air.

      Further, this footage is next to useless:

      – Drone footage needs to be timely, reliable, and detailed. Encryption reduces image quality, datastream reliability, and introduces lag time. Until these are fixed, until the technology can catch up, leaking video will continue to happen.

      – Critical datastreams, such as control data, are encrypted and secure. This is not one of them.

      – For soldiers on the ground to be able to view encrypted video streams, they must have the encryption key on them. One captured device in enemy hands can enable them to break that encryption. Reference ‘navajo code talkers’ and note the standing kill order in case of capture.

      – For drone footage to be useful in a combat situation, you need to have some context as to what you’re seeing. Intercepted footage is decontextualized, and therefore only of use to the enemy as part of post-mortem analysis after the incident.

      – Lastly, if one can intercept it, that means the drone or plane itself is in one’s immediate vicinity and broadcasting. I would think that watching near-useless war-porn voyeur video would be the least of one’s concerns at that point in time, given that a hellfire missile, several pounds of high velocity depleted uranium, or a squad of Marines are probably closing on one’s position at that very moment.

      So this is hardly a big deal.

      1. Andy L says:

        Why is the footage only useful in post-mortems? Surely you could spot landmarks in the footage and easily determine whether the drone was going towards you or away from you, right?

        That could be vital information.

        If a predetor flying at 10,000 ft, (Which seems reasonable based on what I can find on the web about it.) then a line-of-site radio signal could reach 120 miles!

        If the United States military was after me, and I learned that they were within 120 miles of me, then I would be *EXTREMELY* interested in knowing if they were heading towards or away from me. It seems like this footage would at least give me some strong hints in that regard.

  2. Phelps says:

    I’ve been following what I can on the drone issue (and its actually all our aircraft, since after the Predators made such an improvement, we started adding camera pods to almost all our attack aircraft) and I’m just not convinced that there is much tactical value to the enemy there, but there could be a lot of strategic value.

    They would have been able to figure out our aircraft’s capabilities, and maybe would have a better insight into how we are detecting them, so they can update their doctrine to better evade us, but as far as gaining up to the second tactical information from it, I just don’t see that being the case. It’s hard enough to train someone to interpret the surveillance when they know what area they are looking at; just seeing a feed on a satellite without any context because you are getting it illicitly isn’t as helpful as you would think at first.

    1. Stephen says:

      I think the big value is that you know something is flying above you. One of the biggest psychological features of the NATO “surgical strike” way of fighting is that laser guided bombs can be targeted by hidden ground troops and strike accurately even through thick cloud. It’s very, very possible to be killed by a plane that you can’t even see, nevermind defend against. Knowing it’s there at all gives you a chance to find some shelter, try to get away or do something else.

  3. RocketGuy says:

    “Proprietary”. Since it’s a proprietary system, encrypting the signal isn’t the simple additional feature it should be.

    I find it somewhat ironic that while I’m building a photo drone, I can easily decide to encrypt the downlink should I choose to do so, with off the shelf parts.

    While I realize that it’s a whole different world for milspec stuff, I still find it annoying to see how broken the procurement process still is. OTOH, to be fair, these decisions were made long ago, although one would think that they would recognize that today’s cutting edge is tomorrows child’s toy.

Comments are closed.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

current: @adafruit - previous: MAKE, popular science, hackaday, engadget, fallon, braincraft ... howtoons, 2600...

View more articles by Phillip Torrone
Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 30% off early bird ticket sales ends August 31st, 2023!

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Prices Increase in....